Forbes India – Music: Do you like rap but can’t stand heavy metal? Science can help you understand why


The types of music we don’t like say as much about us as the types we like.
Image: Krakenimages.com/Shutterstock

PPeople can have very strong opinions about music. That’s why some people are less into rock, pop or classical music, for example. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Germany have studied this phenomenon. It turns out that several factors can explain this aversion to certain musical genres.

The scientists questioned about twenty people of all ages on their reasons for not liking certain musical styles. They found that these could be classified into three categories. The first involves characteristics relating to the music itself, such as the lyrics or composition of a piece. The second relates to the emotional and physical effects that music can have on individuals, while the last category relates to social factors.

Contrary to what one might think, this aversion to a musical genre does not only consist in not liking a particular song or artist. It can be much more visceral than that. Study participants report feeling physically ill when listening to music they don’t like. Some suffer from headaches, nausea or feel like their heart rate is going up. This feeling of discomfort affects the mental well-being of some participants. They feel aggressive, angry or even depressed when they listen to music they don’t like. And this bad mood can even last over time.

Is the love of music an innate personality trait?

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute have found that musical aversions serve important functions in constructing an individual’s identity. The styles of music we don’t like say as much about us as the ones we like. These musical preferences are social markers: it is fashionable not to like certain so-called “commercial” or “mainstream” music, for example. As such, criticizing them publicly allows you to show your own knowledge of music, and above all your good taste.

Stereotypes associated with artists and fan communities also play an important role in how some people relate to music. The scientists noted that study participants who said they disliked heavy metal often had prejudices about the physical appearance of music lovers who were fans of bands like Black Sabbath, Metallica and AC/DC. “Respondents also attributed psychological abnormalities or disorders to fans or associated them with substance and alcohol abuse or criminal behavior,” they wrote in the study, recently published in the journal PLOS.

For years, the scientific community has wondered why humans devote so much time and energy to music. Is it an innate trait, as some music lovers like to think? It seems that this is not the case for everyone. For some, not liking music might even be written into the brain. Scientists speak of musical anhedonia. This neurological phenomenon, theorized in a 2013 study, explains why some people are unable to derive pleasure from music. However, researchers still don’t understand what exactly is going on in these individuals’ brains that prevents them from responding to music in the same way music lovers do.

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